Chapter 04: Markets - Field Stories
Related Countries:
New Equal Opportunity Committees Offer Some Improvement

What can a European Union citizen do if she experiences discrimination on the basis of gender? One avenue open to women is to seek help at the Equal Treatment Authority (ETA) in their countries. Since its establishment in 2005, the Hungarian ETA has handled cases of discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, disability, gender and maternity, including the following cases of Ilona and Krisztina.

In 2006, Ilona, a 26-year-old Hungarian unskilled blue collar worker, called to apply for a job at a small company that seemed to offer decent hourly wages. She was told that she was not eligible as only men were hired for this particular job, and was instead offered a cleaning job, which would have paid significantly less. Krisztina, a piano teacher in a private music school in a small town in Hungary, was working on a series of fixed term contracts, which had been renewed every year for the previous three years. When she announced that she was pregnant, the director of the school refused to renew her contract and hired someone else for her slot.

In both of the cases above, the Hungarian ETA passed decisions in favour of the employees. In the first case, the company where Ilona wanted to get a job paid a small fine. Although Ilona herself did not get any compensation, when the company opened a new plant six months later, she received the job for which she had originally applied. Krisztina's school was also reprimanded; a bulletin announcing this was posted in the local Town Hall and the ETA prohibited further discriminatory behaviour on the part of the employer. Krisztina, however, did not get her job back or the eligibility for maternity leave she had lost when fired. The ETA recommended that she sue the school, but she was too busy with the new baby to get involved in a lengthy, expensive and emotionally taxing court battle.

The cases of Ilona and Krisztina illustrate the fact that the ETA's impact is necessarily limited. Even when a favourable ruling is passed, the women who brought the complaint are not personally eligible for compensation. The ETA can mediate between the victim and the company, fine the company and issue a statement reprimanding them and prohibiting further discrimination. It can also prevent the company from receiving state subsidies or funding from European Union sources. But ETA has no resources to monitor whether or not the company stops discriminatory behaviour when asked to do so. While the ETA may encourage victims seek compensation or restitution through the local courts, it cannot provide concrete financial or legal assistance.